It must be the heat

Columnist : Albert Paschall

It was 97 degrees the other day and there I stood in my drenched suit clapping while Senator Rick Santorum handed over a $20 million check for road improvements around Valley Forge National Park. There I was, the guy with a Ronald Reagan statue on every desk I own cheering Santorum’s largesse. Had the heat really gotten to me? No, the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge has.

The proposal that is under review now by the National Park Service would have a museum carved into parts of the original forge that would be virtually invisible on the skyline of this national shrine. The 100,000 square foot building would house 300,000 historic objects and archival documents. The architecture by internationally recognized Robert A.M. Stern blends perfectly with the surrounding landscape.

But is it worth 100 million, largely government dollars to build? No question about it.

Tourism is one of Pennsylvania’s biggest businesses. In 2003 travelers spent over $23 billion in the Commonwealth that supported over 500,000 jobs. One in 10 people in the state are in some way dependent on the travel industry for their livelihood. Studies show that two of the biggest attractions for tourists are shopping and tourism. With the American Revolution Center just about 20 miles from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and Constitution Center, and Pennsylvania’s largest travel destination – the King Of Prussia Mall – a mile away, the new museum at Valley Forge can’t miss.

Undoubtedly there will be those who decry the expense of this project as just another roll of pork being forked over for southeastern Pennsylvania. After all, critics point out that the National Civil War Museum hasn’t nearly generated the projected traffic. I visited it on a hot rainy day about a year ago and had the place to myself. One of the guards joked that I was a big crowd. But then again the question begs what is the National Civil War Museum doing in a remote section of Harrisburg rather than on the hallowed ground 40 miles south at Gettysburg?

It’s been 225 years since the end of the bloody, often impossible struggle that we call the American Revolution. That war is the turning point of global civilization in the last 1,000 years. It brought an entirely new and then non-existent concept to government called “we the people” that ultimately took out the dowager monarchies of Western Europe. With $2.5 million pledged to the museum by the Montgomery County Commissioners, $10 million pledged from an anonymous donor, the center needs only $87.5 million to become a reality. $87.5 million can’t mean much in the state where the highest office holders just got a back door 16% raise. The Federal Government wastes $87 million in a heartbeat.

Someday 225 years from now when our descendants visit the museum and wonder back four centuries to the time when America was forged the money will mean nothing and the memories everything. Built to its designed capacity and specifications, the American Revolution Center will easily last 500 years.

It’s time for Pennsylvania’s federal and state representatives to get their heads together and turn up the financial heat to secure the funds to build the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.

[email protected]